Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A bailout for NIFL: Will Gabriel Blow His/Her Horn?

“Have we truly counted the cost of the annihilation of NIFL?” -Demetrion. No. 6.5.2009. 83.
Posted at the National Literacy Advocacy (AAACE-NLA) online discussion list on June 5, 2009.

From: George Demetrion.
A bailout for NIFL: Will Gabriel Blow His/Her Horn?


I’m wondering to the full extent is the Obama administration a truly
informed supporter of adult literacy education. On the surface, and then some, the answer may be given in the affirmative. One of our constant refrains is to show us the money. And in principle that is the case. The money has been shown in terms of proposed increased in AE funding.

Moreover, and without the need for commentary here, in principle, the overarching social policy of the administration is supportive of the broad goals of adult literacy education, particularly when tied to workplace investment—though that in itself is part of the rub. For those of us who have been in the field for any length of time, know full well that there are many tangible and intangible benefits that speak to the public value of adult literacy education through a broader vision of social and cultural impact.

See: “Student Goals and Public Outcomes: The Contribution of Adult Literacy Education by George Demetrion.” ADULT BASIC EDUCATION.Volume 7, Number 3, Fall 1997, 145-164.

On this, I am concerned about two matters:
The conflation of adult education with workforce investment, which as a main preoccupation is a stultifying reductionism that enticed the
Clinton-Gore administration.

The equation of evaluation with the metaphor of “efficiency” narrowly construed as reflected in the “rationale” for recommending the closing of the National Institute For Literacy.

In terms of my own sifting through this issue (and with my other posts on this matter in mind), in the scheme of things I do not believe the intended closing of NIFL as a distinct entity from the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) is a good indicator given the many resource that that agency accomplished over the
last almost 20 years. The additional money for adult education in the
Obama budget is may be construed as a constructive sign as is an OVAE based on an enlightened administration, though as we know, administrations come and go and elections have consequence. My concern remains that in the name of “efficiency” the proposed NIFL elimination was based on faulty and superficial reasoning, which I attribute to benign neglect rather than to any conscious intent as a reflection of a lack of understanding due to lack of focus on our marginal, yet highly important field.

On our collective end, perhaps there had not been a sufficient effort (or imagination) to advocate not simply for more money in support of existing programs. What may have been missing on our part is the construction of some broader narratives that more fully laid out not simply a rationale, but an inspiring public vision of adult literacy education through which to construct our story. For whatever its limitations, Equipped for the Future [EFF] holds some of the most compelling seed-beds for constructing such a narrative in linking personal student goals to the valued public good in which active citizenship rather than “efficiency” could be the driving metaphor. For it is that central value that holds the EFF model together amidst the specific Role Maps and Content Standards.

In any event, the current administration’s position demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the historical developments which unfolded over the past 20 years in the political culture of adult literacy education without which it is impossible to grasp the history and significance of NIFL. As stated, I believe it was a benign neglect based on some macro statistically driven methodology that prevented close examination from taking place. The result is that the more significant issues related to that field within the last 20 years about the value of an independent agency intentionally set up in 1990 were simply ignored.

The superficial evaluative criteria drawn upon in making the policy recommendation apparently did not take into account the reality that NIFL never received anything closely resembling the funding needed to realize its further end rhetorical vision as well as the importance of the great deal of work the agency has done I helping to empower the field through links, support of the regional literacy centers, the listservs, EFF and in other critical ways than those closer to the front lines know about in a much more detailed way than I. I have attempted to spell some of this out as well as to articulate some of the constraints in other messages.

The real issue is not whether NIFL has served as the unifying center for the field–an absurd proposition for an agency funded at $6 million per year, but, given its history, especially in the 1990s when it was not so influenced from repressive right wing control (104th Congress notwithstanding, which cast a mighty chill). The real issue is what the future could be in a revamped NIFL, if it can be freed from political interference, have some real authority and leadership capacity, and be more tightly mission focused on adult and family literacy when compared to what would be the consequences of shutting down the shop.

On this it is critical to keep in mind that the last 8 years of NIFL were in many ways lost and even in that climate, the agency did a great deal of sustaining work. This was due not only as a consequence of a political educational ideology reinforcing a vision of literacy as anything but empowering. The closely related factor was the intensive focus on children’s reading, especially when children’s learning activities have all sorts of representation well beyond the purview of NIFL.

To put it straight out, it is the “adult” in NIFL that needs to be restored along with the pioneering energies of that pivotal time period from 1990-1995 where NIFL was freest to act out of its foremost visionary impulses.

And it was that vision of adult literacy that lost much of its sharp focus during the last 8 years, and what do we make, too, of the decision to remove EFF from the NIFL agenda. I do not believe any of this was taken into account in the Obama decision to close NIFL as the policy recommendation was made at a too macro level.

Could all of the functions of NIFL be subsumed under OVAE? Perhaps and certainly the increased funds would, in principle, be helpful. Yet I issue a cautionary note on whether the spirit of NIFL (that bold experiment implemented under the administration of George H.W. Bush, empowered by Barbara Bush’s passion for family literacy and Forrest Chisman’s penetrating policy insights that gave shape to his pivotal book, Jump Start) would be lost in the accounting process. Perhaps not, but we don’t really know.

What makes consummately more sense to me is a bail out for NIFL and a structural revamping in an annual budget of perhaps $10 million and play it out for a few years. Why not give such a bold opportunity for a revamped NIFL experiment to more fully play itself out in a highly intelligent supportive political environment and see what emerges in 3-5 year. If it’s still problematic after that, there will be a more research-based framework to call the noble experiment a failure, a proposition that has far from been proven up to this point.

Based on the hypothesis that the experiment is still worth pursuing, if
the result is that such a reconstructed agency becomes a critical
instrument of field revitalization (in which results will be assessed in
part based on dollar allocation), much will have been gained. It is
state-based anarchy, I argue, to pull the plug in a precipitous manner for an agency that was intentionally developed based on a great deal of policy and program-based acumen.

Clearly, the Obama administration has the capacity to make a more intelligent decision based on a broader and deeper understanding of the issues. The non-rhetorical question I have for the field is whether we have the collective will to sound out the clarion call of concerted action to change the course set out. I believe the capacity is amongst us is if the collective will is ready to act. I’m not sure there’s any viable consensus on this among our policy leadership without which any concerted campaign would be futile.

To all, and especially the policy leadership community (cause you got the power of serious mobilization), have we truly counted the cost of the annihilation of NIFL, and, to put it frankly, what a superficial policy rationale the administration gave for the proposal to eliminate NIFL?

Finally, esteemed colleagues, are we going to be satisfied simply with the prospect of enhanced dollars for the field when one of the most innovative experiments in our field is under the severest of jeopardy? The issue is not money, but putting it in the right places.

I’m not the one to organize a national advocacy campaign on this pivotal issue; we have policy specialists who have the capacity and credibility to take that on. To be sure, the support of the National Literacy Council is duly noted and appreciated, but the clarion call awaits our trumpeters and Gabriel has not yet blown his horn. I’ve done my part in raising the issues related to the preserving and redesigning NIFL as cogently as I possibly could within the confines of pressing time commitments.

The rest, dear readers is up to the collective us.

Gabriel, the time is now or never to blow your mighty horn! And for the Gabriel’s who are listening, you know who you are.

George Demetrion
Adult literacy intellectual, visionary, and social entrepreneur

Update 12-22-10 With the demise of NIFL in the Fall of 2010 the apprehensive future has no become prologue to an "inevitable" past, though it need not have turned out that way. The cumulative results remain to be seen, but the lack of historical consciousness that engulfs the adult literacy field never ceases to underwhelm me.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 5th, 2009 at 8:00 pm and is filed under Barack Obama, George W. Bush, adult education, adult literacy, reading. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Learning Theory: Summary Statements

Learning Theory: Grappling with the Theory/Pracice Nexus in Search of a Viable Praxis

As I read through these theoretical papers, I feel the professional academics get to dream as big as they want to, but the actual classroom teacher is the real life practitioner who takes what might be great in theory and translates what she can into her actual working situation.

This viewpoint, expressed so succinctly by one class participant in my current seminar on adult education curriculum theory, carries a great deal of resonance with others in the course as one of the critical themes that come across in the discussion posts. As one both immersed in 20+ years of daily practice as well as extensive theoretical explorations underlying adult literacy education, I also experience a good deal of angst in any effort that attempts to resolve the theory/practice tension so pervasive in educational discourse. The issue, as I see it, is less that one (theory) is idealistic and the other (practice) is realistic, since they each combine theoretical reflection and insight from the field in their various ways.

The issue as I see it is that academic theory and grounded practice have their basis in divergent discourse communities with different focused objectives, which have the capacity to converge in places, yet perhaps less often than what may be viewed as desirable from both the perspective of the theorist and the practitioner. I believe that this tension has its origins in western epistemology (how we learn) grounded in the founding texts of Plato in positing an ineradicable gap between the ideal and real, a polarity which has never stopped resonating in many conscious and unconscious ways. Given this assumption, I do not think there can be any straight-forward resolution of the theory/practice tension in contemporary educational discourse, in which, however, the dynamic relation between theory and practice offers much potential fruit for new learning for practitioners and formal theorists alike.

Bringing this closer to home, the tension between theory and practice in education would be broadly akin to that between the theoretical scientist and the engineer or the medical practitioner, whose primary purpose is that of building better bridges or practicing more effective medicine. In the process of carrying out their work, the engineer or medical profession may draw on core scientific precepts in grappling with a particular problem such as what drug (if any) to prescribe to a given patient, what dose, and for what exact purpose. Many variables about the patient’s own medical history in its potential interaction with the drug would need to be factored in. It is in working through direct application issues as indicated in the example in which the latest scientific journal article may convey to the medical practitioner that missing piece of information which may simply not be available through direct observation or dialogue with the patient, whether a new conceptual insight or a new mode of application.

In this respect the highly informed medical professional brings together information from both worlds (the scientific based journals and sound medical practice honed through years of practice). Such competency is further developed through detailed work with hundreds of patients, substantial comparative analysis of critical cases in one’s chosen sub-field, through discussions with colleagues, in attending special seminars, and in studying the academic medical journals with keen discernment in probing for relevant information, some of which may or may not be immediately germane to one’s current practice.

Thus, the highly informed medical practitioner keeps attuned to theoretical discussion and research relevant to his or her practice, though typically draws on it to work through some practitioner-based issue or problem. I say typically, because through knowledge gained in drawing on theory or research in application to a specific issue or patient, the practitioner could and sometimes does, contribute to the broader pool of knowledge of her/his field by addressing theory/research questions from the local of one’s grounded location. While such efforts are far from typical, they do point to a potentiality in the theory/practitioner continuum that could reap much value. Mediating efforts include participating on research teams or writing in a way that addresses theory/research issues in more practitioner-based publications.

In moving to our more immediate focus on adult education practice, the keen insights that we have shared on learning theory and its relevance to our own work provide a rich baseline of ideas that will need to be more thoroughly processed in the shaping up of revised and new curriculum designs in our own specific teaching contexts and integrate into the various topics we are studying. A summary of the key the key ideas raised these past three weeks include the following:

1. At some level theory matters in that ideas are incorporated into practice by definition and therefore cannot be avoided. On this assumption theory construction in some formal or informal level is part of the essential work of both the practitioner and the academic specialist and takes place all the time regardless as to our awareness as to how they are playing out in our own practice.

2. Better to be informed, therefore, of one’s implicit and explicit theoretical assumptions as they are enacted in our practice in order to better grasp, and also to modify or, as the situation may call for, even to more fundamentally alter some of the core presuppositions of our work if to do so leads to better practice.

3. Some of us have identified key theoretical breakthroughs in identifying or altering our teaching or program-based practice.

a. Some have referred to the importance of Malcolm Knowles work on the self-directed learner and the focus in adult education on practical relevance through a facilitative pedagogy, which Knowles refers to as andogogy. Knowles’ insights might be aptly viewed as a blending of humanistic philosophy and constructivist learning theory.

b. Many have referred to the importance of constructivism as central to adult education practice while realizing that in certain task-based contexts or in contexts where automaticity is crucial, other theoretical emphases may be more relevant. As pointed out in many of your postings, much of the critical work of the discerning practitioner is to deftly apply specific aspects of theoretical insights to particular pedagogical challenges which we encounter daily in our programs.

c. I have sought to bring to the fore the central role of Dewey’s concept of “growth” in providing an imaginative schema in grounding my understanding of a “middle-ground” practice which opened up a significant interpretive lens on both my daily work as a site based adult literacy program manager and formal theory construction. Dewey’s learning theory has been a central thread of progressive educational thought throughout the 20th century and has much, though largely untapped potential in enhancing adult education thought and practice.

4. Some wonder about the relevance at all of possessing formal knowledge of established learning theories in that some of the most highly competent teachers practice their craft with keen intuitive insight and a solid knowledge base honed by years of practice, with very little formal theoretical understanding of the pedagogy informing their work. On this I offer the following:

a. While there are important and potentially useful relationships between academic learning theory and best practices they are not tightly correlated. Rather, theory, like instructional materials are a resource that the savvy practitioner utilizes to better inform her or his practice. In this respect, knowledge of academic learning theory becomes relevant to the extent that it offers valuable resources and insight to effectively enhance practice in any given context. In this respect, the well grounded teacher draws on theory in a manner analogous to the skilled engineer rather than in the mode of the research scientist. In either case sound principles apply, but the one does so to further refine discussions on theory while the other does so to improve practice. Both are valuable; both are necessary. Sometimes there is nothing more practical than a good theory. Sometimes there is nothing more practical than better practice.

b. Resources gleaned from constructivist learning theory are generally more useful (a) when the important instructional work at hand is helping students to strengthen their own internal representations as knowledgeable learners, (b) when the topic matter is focused more on empathetic and critical probes into different points of view or based primarily on self-reflection and building empathetic communities of learners. Still, as pointed out, constructivism may play a significant role in providing an underlying tone in learning challenges that are primarily focused on mastering sequential tasks and developing automaticity in developing greater phonemic awareness. That is, while a task may call for a mastery of sequential steps, issues related to internal representation and motivation still may require constructivist insight in linking a particular learning style and history with a progressive mastery of a given task at hand. These are subtle matters that require a great deal of discernment in which we often learn through the inevitability of our mistakes, particularly when we utilize them as resources for further reflection and modifications of our plans.

c. Cognitivist theory as exemplified in D.M. Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction or in Sticht’s functional context theory may play a central role in helping students progressively master a series of essential learning tasks like learning about new work processes in one’s job, starting a business, developing a week’s worth of healthy recipes for one’s family, mastering the fundamentals of basic algebra, or following and applying basic rules of English grammar and punctuation. Yet, as stated above, while near term knowledge acquisition may require well laid out mental maps in order to master a given set of tasks, longer-term knowledge development may require more subtle internalization in which one’s identity as a learner become positively reconstructed as part of the ongoing process of learning new tasks and procedures.

d. Behaviorist theory may play a principle role in developing the automaticity skills in increasing basic phonemic awareness or in mastering the fundamentals of basic arithmetic where practice through repetition is the more immediate key learning objective at hand. Even still cognitive development provides an important resource in helping students to internalize the schematic framework to make sense of what they are learning in order to enable such learning to flow into the long term memory. This often leads in turn, to viewing oneself as a competent learner (constructivism) which serves an important reinforcing and legitimizing role that is essential for persistence in learning, particularly when the challenges are difficult, yet potentially in reach (Bandura).

e. Pragmatic learning theory can be central in learning challenges emerging out of some gap in felt experience in which the pivotal challenge is to progressively overcome the gap through forms of knowledge and reconstruction of the context in which the problem was situated. Loss of a job could be one such source as could encountering a radically new and uncomfortable experience like incarceration or release from prison. Constructivist precepts could help in the firming up of a revitalized identity in lending meaning and purpose to the challenging work of activating needed sequential mastery in learning some complex set of tasks required to meet the challenges of coping effectively with a new work or social environment.

f. Even still, the more fundamental challenge may be that of appropriate problem identification and progressive problem solving to which a pragmatic inquiry-mode as exemplified in Dewey’s theory of learning could open up.

5. The insights gleaned on learning theory need to be incorporated into a broader set of insights and resources drawn upon in the challenging work of developing a teacher designed curriculum focus for a given course or program. We’ve seen such interfaces in our discussions of adult education theory and in the formal literature on curriculum theory in which Bruner’s spiral model and Dirkx & Prenger’s theme-based approach are prime examples of constructivist learning theory. As we shift this upcoming week into the topic of discerning the contexts of adult education theory we’ll see additional convergences between constructivism and the notion of literacy practices as detailed in Fingeret and Drennon’s Literacy for Life: Adult Learners, New Practices We’ll also see the connection in Sticht’s Functional Context Education which shares strong affinities with Merrill’s ID2 integration of constructivism within a complex cognitivist design.

As we move through the remainder of this course we’ll identify various interfaces between learning theory and pedagogical strategies in Weeks 9 and 10. We’ll also give consideration to the strong correlations between CASAS and Merrill and Sticht’s complex view on cognitional learning theory and the pivotal role of constructivism on EFF, yet one that incorporates significant cognitivist components. Though we will not address it in this class, the issue of the relationship between qualitative and quantitative modes of student assessment and program evaluation are very much linked to divergent views on learning theory.

6. In drawing some closing conclusions, there is much to draw on from learning theory as indicated in the many discussions we have which we have had during the past three weeks. Among other things this includes the emphasis on constructivism in adult education and gaining a better sense of its many applications as well as coming to terms with the many contexts where its utilization may be limited or even counterproductive. What also stands out is the significant work of Merrill on the second level application of instructional design (ID2) and Sticht on functional context theory, both of which seek to establish linkages between cognitivist and constructivist theories and design principles from a highly nuanced cognitivist perspective. In the process of sifting through the ID2 perspective characteristic of both Merrill and Sticht, we’ve gained a better sense of the differences as well as similarities between their viewpoint and Dirkx & Prenger’s more constructivist-oriented theme-based perspective.

What is eminently clear is that a fundamental dividing point is not over the importance of content or theme-based instruction, which Merrill and Sticht fully share with Dirkx & Prenger, as well as the other constructivist learning theorists that we have studied. The primary difference, rather, has to do with the ways in which learning and supportive teaching takes place and the ways in which emergence and pre-planning interface. While we did not give as much attention to Dewey’s pragmatic theory of learning as progressive problem solving as I would have liked, his work too, as exemplified in Democracy and Education opens some intriguing insights for fresh learning that can be gleaned through a close study of his work.

7. The challenge is to think like a practitioner-inquirer in which it is not theory in itself that is the most salient factor. Rather, it is cogent application through effective utilization of theoretical insight as a critical resource in moving our understanding and practice forward in ways that facilitate demonstrably better outcomes of a more or less enduring type within the learning and broader life projects of our students. I’ll close with a quote from with Chapter 11, “Experience and Thinking” in Democracy and Education.

An ounce of experience is better than a ton of theory simply because it is only in experience that any theory has vital and verifiable significance. An experience, a very humble experience, is capable of generating and carrying any amount of theory (or intellectual content), but a theory apart from an experience cannot be definitely grasped even as theory. It tends to become a mere verbal formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine theorizing, unnecessary and impossible. Because of our education we use words, thinking they are ideas, to dispose of questions, the disposal being in reality simply such an obscuring of perception as prevents us from seeing any longer the difficulty (p. 144).

The work on learning theory has the potential of becoming increasingly viable to the extent that we are able to draw on insights discussed in the readings and among us, in applying some of what we’ve learned to our own contexts, in assessing its impact as it gets played out in our practice, and in making additional adjustments or modifications to our teaching as warranted. The value of the knowledge of learning theories for the discerning practitioner-inquirer is no more and also no less than that, in which “to ‘learn from experience’ is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy and suffer from things in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it’s like; the undergoing becomes instruction—discovery of the connection of things” (p. 140). Through this we learn and in the process make changes in the challenging effort of creating, or at least contributing to the more desirable outcome; learning experiences for and with our students as satisfactory as possible.

It is this which Dewey refers to as “growth;” some reconstruction of the world—that small, but far from insignificant portion of it where we have some control, and where our actions and where our undergoings make a difference in our own lives and among those with whom we have some influence in our desire to build the good community through which we might define as the good school. In this effort, effective appropriation of learning theory has a humble but not insignificant role to play.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults: Ch 1 Using Integerated Theme-Based Instruction with Adults

According to Dirkx and Prenger, stimulating motivation for a small group of learners poses little problem. For them it may be best just to focus on their identified learning needs, whether GED preparation or any type of direct learning that they want to take on (p. 1). What we know from our own collective experience and national statistics about drop-out rates is that a large proportion of adult students who initially enroll in adult education program leave well before attaining their goals or other sustainable learning objectives. Some students who drop out return and on second or third time around may obtain longer range goals or tangible benefits of some sustaining sort. Yet the reality remains that a much greater ratio simply cycle in and out of programs resulting in what Tom Sticht refers to as the “turbulence,” characteristic of many programs and class rooms; especially open-enrollment ones. John Strucker’s instructive rejoinder provides an important other perspective (

Critical Perspectives of Key Adult Literacy Writers

As argued in Focus on Basics article written by Allan Quigley, the first three weeks are critical in determining whether students will remain in the program As he argues more extensively in his book Rethinking Literacy Education: The Critical Need for Practice-Based Change Practitioners, program-based institutional, along with student situational barriers such as day care, transportation, which are difficult to control for, also need to be addressed ( Clearly, curriculum is one intervening institutional factor, but it is not always the uppermost one, even as sometimes it is.

On this topic Quigley discuss relevant content-based curricula through the prisms of four central curricular prisms:

• Vocational Working Philosophy
• Liberal Working Philosophy
• Liberatory Working Philosophy
• Humanist Working Philosophy

My review essay of Rethinking Literacy Education titled, “The Pragmatic Reform Vision of B. Allan Quigley,” provides a summary of Quigley’s arguments on potential barriers (pp. 8-10) to participating in adult education programs and Quigley’s curriculum recommendations (pp. 10-14)

In Literacy for Life A Framework for Change, Hannah Fingeret and Cassndra Drennon propose a life cycle model consisting of the following stages

1. Prolonged tension: Some basic life problem (e.g., dependency or unemployment) that propel individuals to seek a solution.
2. Turning point: Making the initial decision to seek adult literacy education as at least a part of the solution leading to some life-based resolution (enhancing literacy skills to become increasingly independent through gainful employment).
3. Problem-solving and seeking (advanced) educational opportunities: Students begin to build on the skills and confidence that they’ve gained from the program to begin to achieve some visible outcomes beyond the program that matter to them.
4. Changing relationships and changing practices: Relationships at home, work, and the community begin to change outside the program as a result of participating in the program (adults who become increasingly independent or set new goals and the impact of these changes on significant others)
5. Intensive continuing interaction: Increased learning and enhanced sense of efficacy within the program where students can continue to work on their skills in a “safe zone” for addressing the continuing needs of enhanced life efficacy outside of the program

On the view of the authors, an optimally effective program will facilitate student development the entirety of the life cycle of change. Curriculum is important, but so are other critical factors.

Questions to ponder

1. What are your thoughts of the viability of Fingeret and Drennon’s Life Cycle Model of adult literacy?
2. In what ways can this model be of value to you as you reflect on the challenges you face as a classroom teacher, curriculum developer, or program director or administrator?
3. Do you see any of the five turning points to be of more significant than others?
4. Which of the five are in your direct span of control as a teacher or program director or administrator?
5. What are the implications of any of these turning points being missing for the quality of adult education programming, especially on the issue of student persistence and goal attainment?

The NCSALL report by Rober Kegan, and his colleagues Toward a New Pluralism ABE/ESOL Classrooms: Teaching to Multiple Cultures of Mind Executive Summary ( out important insight on the way that students with different “cultures of the mind” learn, and what they seek to focus on in adult education settings. Specifically, Kegan identifies three “cultures of the mind” linked to Instrumental, Socializing, and Self-Authoring ways of knowing. According to Kegan and his colleagues these cultures of mind, which the authors view as typologies, play a major role in how students interpret what they are learning and its significance. Take a look first at the two page research brief:


1. To what extent do you find Kegan’s pluralistic model persuasive?
2. Whether or not or the extent to which you agree with his ideal typology, to what extent have the students you’ve worked with exhibited these three “cultures of the mind?”
3. Which typology or mix most typifies the students you’ve worked with?
4. What can you draw from Kegan’s model that would be of value to you in his proposed pluralistic model?

With the Quigley, Fingeret and Drennon, and Kegan et al studies in mind, what seems evident to me is that students have a range of critical life application issues that they process in highly divergent ways that they are seeking to address through adult basic education. Programs and adult education institutions, accordingly, need to be as keenly focused on these divergences as possible. Several key factors are required:

• A supportive atmosphere where students will feel accepted and valued, and then challenged in a way that builds up their capacities and esteem
• Timely intake and appropriate placement
• Well taught classrooms with appropriate materials
• A relevant and interesting instructional program that in some significant manner addresses both basic skill enhancement and application to life contexts beyond the program though content-based subject matter that provides students greater access to those contexts
• A program well attuned to effectively working with students with a wide divergence of backgrounds, learning styles, expectations, goals and current life challenges, and self-processing psychological prisms
• Highly attuned counseling and referral services
• If at all possible, some resources to help students deal with such issues as day care, transportation, and long-term unemployment

Key Curriculum Content areas include at the least:

• Workplace literacy and career development
• Family Literacy
• Health Literacy
• Becoming a more informed consumer
• Civic Awareness
• Identifying and keeping personal goals
• Transitioning to college
• Computer literacy
• Strengthening basic skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening, numeracy

A few questions related to the Dirkx and Prenger course example on nature:

• What do you make of the example cited on p. 3 of developing a course of study on nature in a corrections setting?
• Could you envision a similar application in your setting?
• Could you envision utilizing such a webpage as the National Geographic Xpeditions site with your class? ( In what ways?
• What do you conclude about the comparative group study on pp. 3-4 in which the class that studied the nature theme had a 50% higher program participation rate than those took a non-thematic subject matter course?

See Tom Sticht Functional Context Education “Introduction: Making Learning Relevant to the 21st Century Ch 1 (intro) and Ch 6 or 7 (Case studies). Sticht makes a case similar to that of Dirkx and Prenger and Quigley on the importance of a relevant curriculum focus in enhancing motivation while engendering positive impact on general literacy aptitude. While Sticht’s early work in the 1960s and 1970s focused on the functional contexts of the military, workplace, and President Johnson’s Great Society programs, in more recent years he has broadened his focus to include any content focus, including spiritual development that particular students would find valuable. What has remained consistent with Sticht is the central argument that the development of literacy skills occurs most effectively when it is a function of content rather than an independent stand-alone in which “basic language skills” and life skills are separately taught, or that one needs to learn to read first before applying such decontextualized knowledge to concrete applied situations.

Characteristics of an Integrated Theme Based Approach

An Integrated Themed-Based (ITB) instructional approach is more than just a form of content-based instruction. As an integrated theme-based approach to instruction, it is a transdisciplinary real-world view of the curriculum in focusing life contexts outside the program (p. 5). For example, writing a business letter is not an end in itself or an “exercise” in writing, but incorporated into a broader theme of getting and keeping a worthwhile sustainable job.

ITB is a way of thinking and about developing instruction in which teachers draw objectives, concepts, and skills from all areas of desired competencies, including basic skill development (p. 5). In the ideal scenario the course or unit is developed from a general idea, theme, or domain that is relevant to a learner or group of learners. The theme must emerge from or speak to the life contexts of participating learners (see Elsa Auerbach’s Making Meaning, Making Change especially Ch 1 where she discusses one of her core concepts, the Emergent Curriculum). According to Auerbach, the curriculum is emergent in the sense that its formulation evolves in the very process of the dynamics of class interaction as a student-centered instructional planning. Thus, the context which gives shape to its formulation is quite different from expert driven top-down curriculum design.

A discussion of the Emergent Curriculum ( can also be read here. This is a useful article in providing a solid overview of the concept of the emerging curriculum even though there are a few syntax problems in the essay, most likely due to the fact that the authors are not native English writers. The core assumptions undergirding the emergent curriculum are suffused throughout Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults, though a clear statement of its core principles is as not concisely articulated by the authors as it is in Auerbach’s Making Meaning Making Change.

However it specifically emerges, which can be some combination of top-down pre-planning and bottom-up refining and fine tuning, Dirkx and Prenger maintain that a curriculum should ideally be grounded in thoughtful dialogue with students. It should reflect personal, vocational, family, community, societal or other contexts and other compelling student areas of interest such as the nature course, which was a uniquely discovered interest within a given class setting. Even if specific themes are developed in advance they can be modified in response to specific student feedback once classes meet. It is still important to include basic or academic skills; however the materials will be drawn from real or real like contexts that students utilize in their actual lives and will be as contextualized as possible (p. 9).

Comment: Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults presents an idealized pedagogical format based on the integrated thematic model. One of the core issues raised about this model is the issue of where the need for concentrated skill development comes in. Specifically, what is the role of systematic practice in basic or academic skill development such as writing essays in preparation for the GED writing text or developing fluency in basic reading (decoding)? That is, are such skills best developed “naturally” while working with theme-based content as Sticht, Auerbach, and Dirkx and Prenger suggest or should basic skill work be separated out and given its own particular attention in order to facilitate systematic development? This is an important issue that has both philosophical and practical import which very much gives shape to the nature and focus of everyday classroom work. There are various ways to work through these issues which would depend in part on specific program focus, background of both the teacher and the students, and academic level of the students. For example Sticht argues that one should provide explicit and separate attention to phonemic development with students at fourth grade reading levels and below while those at higher levels would best benefit through an exclusive functional-context approach based on topics and themes of identified interests to students as well as program developers.

According to Dirkx and Prenger, the thematic approach not only differs from basic skills or academic-focused approaches that concentrate on “decontextual” skill development. The ITB approach also differs from other functional approaches which reduce “real life” application to a set of specific skills that will shift from one topic to another without broader thematic context. This issue is illustrated in many adult education textbooks in which the “life skill” scenarios are often either too generalized or stereotypical for affective application with students or are simply designed as a resource to teach basic skills in comprehension, vocabulary, pronunciation, or math. It also differs from approaches that focus just on a set of life skills that one may derive for example, from a list of CASAS competencies without regard for the broader contexts or learning domains in which such skills are situated. Thus, in an ITB approach, the topic of consumer awareness might also include some focus on the role of consumerism as a cultural value in contemporary society and the psychology of consumerism on the lives of participating students and their families and communities. In a fully developed ITB approach, attention to the basic skills are fully addressed in context, and the themes selected are sufficiently broad to be integrated into some meaningful life contextual framework such as that of developing a meaningful vocation rather than that of simply finding a job.

This is the ideal proposed by Dirkx and Prenger even as the authors of this text are aware that such a vision represents an aspiration toward which to strive where progress rather than perfection is the more realistic and satisfying objective at least for many programs (see Ch 8). You might consider the concluding statement of Ch 1 on p. 16 of some value in viewing the possibilities of incorporating at least greater aspects of a theme-based approach in light of the various realities of your own programmatic context. The list of statements on p. 17 in Exhibit 1.1 may also merit your attention.

It is not my intention for you to accept the pedagogical presuppositions advocated by the authors of Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults. It is my desire that you vigorously (a) grapple with the ideas presented in the text as a thinking/planning tool to work through your own curriculum development planning; (b) give studied consideration to infusing your own work with greater intentional focus on student-relevant theme-based instruction while simultaneously including sustained attention to basic and academic skill development as well, and (c) to rigorously think through how a bottom-up emergent curriculum and top-down planned curriculum focus can creatively intersect at key junctures rather than to be intrinsically viewed as oppositional.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dewey's Theory of Growth: Summary Points - Part Two

In the previous post I’ve attempted to sum up a great deal of Dewey’s core educational insights in presenting some of his major ideas while incorporating a few thoughts on implications for instructional design and actual classroom teaching. In Chapter Ten of Conflicting Paradigms of Adult Literacy Education, titled, “Toward a Mediating Pedagogy of Adult Literacy Education,” I summarize discussion of Dewey’s key assumptions about learning through eight points. In the effort to establish at least a few additional links between Dewey’s theory of growth and its implications for creating a viable classroom dynamic I’ve inserted a few points within each of these eight assumptions with the proviso that some of the fuller potential on implementing Dewey’s concepts would need much more work in the realm of practice than I can construct from his work at this point.

The more important point remains that Dewey’s philosophy of education and broader pragmatic philosophy has had a profound effect on 20th century education, including adult education especially in its formative, early years. Moreover, there is a great deal one can draw out for practical application for lifelong and experiential education from Dewey’s core ideas, especially from Democracy and Education and his short book written 20 years later, Experience and Education.

1. Learning is an intermediary process toward the resolution of a problem in the movement toward reconstruction in desirable ends-in-view established through the inquiry process.

a. Since the goal is not learning, which is a means to an end, but resolving some problem, identifying an appropriate problem or interest area to work on in a given educational context is essential in motivating students and engaging their most creative energies.
b. Adult education, with its strong focus on life application learning is an especially apt educational environment to institute such a framework.

2. Knowledge acquisition is a progressive affair of moving gradually from what is known to what is not known, with effective learning processes built throughout the means-ends continuum.

a. Dewey identifies a six stage learning cycle which he defines in the broadest of terms as “the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, p. 108).
b. Specific stages include
i. A preliminary stage in which there is some felt matter that does not appear right, but what exactly that is is not quite clear.
ii. The acknowledgement and articulation of a specific problem that needs to be addressed which sets the framework for the inquiry process or learning process.
iii. A provisional problem solution (a hypothesis) that requires testing through reflection and critical action, or experimentation.
iv. Reasoning, reflection, and where appropriate, collaborative inquiry with the result of sharpening a more refined problem resolution statement
v. Experimental testing and further reflection on the implications on some well thought out activity following up on the logic worked through.
vi. Coming to some reasoned judgment, what Dewey refers to as a “warranted assertion” which provides some stable settlement to the means-ends continuum at least for the case at hand (Chapters 6-7 in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry)
c. Each of these stages can be built into a learning activity, even though in practice it is unlikely and may not be necessary for all of these sequences to be formally worked through.

3. Each moment of a learning process in the move from means to ends has its own internal integrity, what Dewey describes as a qualitative whole that moves throughout the entire process of learning.

a. Each of the six stages of inquiry contain much potential in unleashing rich teaching opportunity in which problem identification and provisional solution are built in as a microcosmic element. Each stage of learning possesses a particular function in stimulating the learning continuum in the passage toward the desired goal at the appropriate moment and way in a given consecutive learning sequence.
b. The critical teaching task is being attuned to the particular stage of learning underway in any given context and incorporating materials and keeping the educational direction focused on the immediate learning problem at hand in the midst of its unfolding toward the longer range objective. This includes making course correctives when needed, but being judicial in doing so.

4. What is experienced throughout the learning process, a qualitative whole, is a blending of emotion, social experience, and cognition, mediated by a situation that is culturally constructed. Symbolization is at the core of this phenomenon.

a. Each learning episode is fully contextual in its own right, possesses its own intrinsic integrity, and needs to be worked through as such.
b. Each learning episode, however seemingly mundane, such as learning the sounds of syllables and words is an end as well as a means in which effective learning requires engagement of the whole person whether in individual or collaborative settings. Learning is stimulated through a multi-methodology, multi-engagement approach even in teaching phonics.
c. While each learning process contains its own intrinsic integrity it also needs to be viewed in its contributory role to the learning continuum lest it be perceived as an end in its own right and thereby jeopardize some of its critical focus. For example, the purpose of teaching through phonics is to contribute to fluent reading rather than a mastery of syllable sounds in isolation. Unless this end goal is factored in, there will be more of a tendency with both teachers and students to stay focused on the immediate objective at hand, turning that into an implicit goal, or dropping it when no longer seemingly viable.

5. It is the integrity of working through the process via an increasingly refined recursive cycle of hypothesis formation, data-analysis, observation, and experimentation stimulated by “guiding ideals” or “leading principles,” that leads to the ends-in view.

a. The recursive learning cycle based on Dewey’s mode of inquiry was highlighted above #2. Note the broad similarity with Kolb’s four-part cycle
b. Guiding ideals or leading principles are the immediate sources of directive propulsion that guide learning at each and every stage of an inquiry process. In this function they provide the underlying cohesiveness that leads to consecutiveness in the development of a well-integrated learning process (see #6).

6. Making reasoned inferences throughout all the stages of working through the “means-ends continuum,” is an essential factor in the work of hypothesis formation, data analysis, and in the determination of what it is that is observed and focused upon.

a. Dewey identifies such inferences as some merging of formal thought and intuition; an informed educated hunch that is the deepest taproot of active thinking embedded in a problem resolution inquiry process.
b. Such inferences are ingrained habits of learning that can be developed and refined at some level with all learners, often by focusing on less coverage of the material or curriculum with more depth (see #7).
c. Their development and deployment represents a pivotal, if not the most crucial aspect of the entire educative process, which in contemporary terms might be at least partially associated with metacognitive learning.

7. Instructional materials are tools that help to facilitate and focus learning. Their value is the extent to which they connect the subject matter with some question, issue, or problem with which the students are concerned that in some way advances learning as discerned, in the final analysis, by the students.

a. In Dewey’s terminology, instructional materials serve as “middlemen,” “a bridge for the mind in its passage from doubt to discovery” (D&E, Ch 13, p. 188).
b. Rather than an end in their own right, instructional materials play a functional role in leading to significant learning (“the learning that matters” in my terminology),
c. This middleman perspective is also shared by Dirkx & Prenger in which for them materials are selected only after a learning process has been initiated and goals laid out by the students themselves. The difference with Dewey is that he is less dogmatic in terms of being open to the possibility that materials could be selected in advance in which what truly matters is how they are actually utilized in a given inquiry process. Moreover, Dewey is more inclined to view materials through both symbolic and more literal representations of what is to be learned. He thereby adopts a more fluid view of how they can be appropriated in any given context. Thus, a program may have little choice in deciding whether or not to use a given workbook. Even is such a selection is administratively imposed, the creative classroom teacher can develop a broad array of ways of utilizing such materials in a manner that facilitates what students and teachers together define as significant learning. Such efficacy may require a great deal of skill and a learning climate that trial and error experimentation.

8. “A curriculum which acknowledges the social responsibilities of education must present situations where problems are relevant to the problems of living together, and where observation and information are calculated to develop social insight and interest.”

a. For Dewey, education is not merely a technical pedagogical process. It is one with life itself as signified in his concept of growth. On this view, the purpose of education is the capacity to engage in more education which, for the purpose of enhancing living experience, has a broad array of personal, interpersonal, social, and cultural manifestations
b. Dewey would have shared strong affinities with historian Bernard Bailyn’s definition of education as the entire process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations” ( To this, Dewey would add the important transformational power of education as a pivotal reform engine of the entire society, which Dewey desired to see instituted in all of the public institutions of contemporary life.
c. The extent to which education could serve such a transformative social vision depended not only on the effectiveness of intra-classroom dynamics, but the very receptiveness of the nation’s public institutions, including the school itself, to embody and promote such a vision.
d. In this Dewey hitched his engine for the quest for the good school in dynamic transactional relationship with what he viewed as the good society. However great the distance between the reality and the vision, the progressive educational ideals have played a significant role in 20th century education, including the early history on adult education, especially on the work of Eduard Lindeman in the emphasis both o experiential and lifelong learning. That general and adult education alike have moved into other directions without totally losing their progressive edge is a social story also worthy of much focus, one we will not pursue here.

probing John Dewey's Theory of Education: Part One

Probing the Educational Implications of John Dewey’s Theory of Growth

I add John Dewey’s substantial work on education based on his pragmatic philosophy as a third resource to construct a learning theory and corresponding instructional design through the prism of his core concept of “growth.” In teasing out his subtle concept of growth, I draw on Dewey’s highly influential text, Democracy and Education (1916). For those who would like to incorporate Dewey’s ideas in their own work, an inexpensive print version can be accessed here The online version can be accessed here:

To open up this topic, I draw on some key statements by educational scholar, Jim Garrison, from his important book, Dewey and Eros: Wisdom and Desire in the Art of Teaching At the center of Dewey’s educational vision is a naturalistic philosophy in which inquiry is not an end-in-it-self, but a means toward establishing a more desirable state of things, whatever the specific context of the inquiry may be. Such a more desirable state of things in the light of some problem or experientially-driven perplexity requires a critical probing of the range of options within the realm of the possible. At the center of this is not only rational decision making based on a given set of choices, but also the illuminating impulse of “imagination [which] plays a crucial role in both rational cognitive and creative value appraisals” (Garrison, p. 127) of both the problem-focus and potential solutions. Hence, the title of Garrison’s book in which the most disciplined inquiry and the most sublime aesthetics converge in the realm of lived experience in a stimulating quest for some type of satisfactory resolution within a reconstruction of experience itself through a more desirable “ends-in-view,” which Dewey succinct fully defines “as that which, if acted upon will supply the existing need or lack and [thereby] resolve the existing conflict” or lacking gap (Quoted in Archambault (Ed.) John Dewey on Education, p. 90). As Garrison states it:

Deliberation allows us to see in the future of our best possibilities. It is part of moral perception to see beyond what is immediately present. The refusal to separate imagination and emotion from rational deliberation allowed Dewey to defy one of the most devious threats to critical thinking. If our critical thinking lacks imagination, emotion, and intuition, then we are only able to deliberate about preexisting alternatives. Value criticism would then be purely cognitive and dispassionately rational….To be free we need to imagine the possible beyond the actual, and to be moral we must distinguish those possibilities that ought to be (i.e., that are truly desirable) from those that ought not. Dewey understood that imagination could create new value alternatives for us to deliberate upon and perhaps to pursue. This is why Dewey’s complete theory of the education of eros is imaginatively creative as well as analytically critical (p.128).

This convergence between critical inquiry and the quest for an experientially grounded aesthetic fulfillment that gives shape to new potentialities in the very midst of the actual is essential in deploying the full range of available resources in dynamic problem resolution. That is, beyond setting a negative problem in a somewhat better light, which has much value in its own right, education, at its finest, holds the sublime potential in the setting forth of a new paradigmatic reconstruction that could not have been merely “logically” fathomed from the previously given. Thus, an adult learner goes beyond obtaining a better job, which, itself, may be viewed as an important positive value in its own right, and creates his or her new business with a resulting entrepreneurial reconstruction of the self that could not have been “realistically” envisioned from a merely rational extrapolation of the previously given options.

Based on this framework, Garrison lays out the pedagogical ideal in which “what we should always do morally is strive to perceive our students’ best possibilities.” An accurate assessment of what this may be for each student is obviously difficult, necessitating much discernment and empathetic experimentation, “requiring a good deal of imagination” and critical inquiry. Nonetheless, on Garrison’s view, “imagination [in the Deweyan vein of searching out for the better within every actuality] is the greatest instrument of the good.” Such teaching requires both critical and poetical sensibilities in “bestow[ing] value on our students by calling into existence their best possibilities” (p. 171). Such “reconstruction [in] transforming a situation from worse to better” is the essence of what Dewey means by growth. The process entails a progressively leading toward the more desirable (Dewey’s concept of “an ends-in-view). Throughout this reconstruction, each moment or event leads into an increasing “harmony” and unification” in which processes and desired outcomes are mutually enfolded and progressively worked through as the learning process unfolds (p. 198). An aesthetic sensibility is reflected in each moment as the sought for ends-in-view is embedded in each micro-cosmic element leading toward the desired fulfillment. This is intuited as much as it is consciously articulated in each creative “teaching moment” in which artistic sensibility and critical inquiry are constructively conjoined.

Pivotal Ideas in Democracy and Education

In light of this background I will focus on some of the key points in chapters 3-4 in Dewey’s Democracy and Education which provides the foundation for grasping the entire text. In Chapter Three, Dewey draws out the importance of direction, including the teacher’s facilitative role in “guiding the natural capacities” of students to progressively realize desired ends. By direction, Dewey means a continuous course of activity focusing on a coherent building toward a desired aim in which the teacher serves as a critical actor in bringing learning goals toward fulfillment in some student and teacher identified satisfactory result. In this respect, Dewey rejects either/or positions as to whether the curriculum can be planned in advanced, whether pre-designed learning goals can be drawn upon, whether instructional materials can be effectively brought in ahead of time or whether they need to be developed or identified as a result of the active engagement of the classroom setting.

He also rejects either/or positions on whether teachers should provide a leading role or follow the prompting of students. In this respect, the teacher gives of his or her background, talent, and knowledge, as much as takes from the background, talents, and knowledge of the students as the social dynamic of the classroom activity unfolds. The issue for Dewey is less who provides the direction, and on his interpretation, the teacher needs to play a substantial role in helping students realize their own innate capacities in moving from any current actual to a progressive realization of the better. In the process, Dewey advocates for a highly interactive learning dynamic; one focused on the set of problems at hand through the engagement of a learning community where each contributes according to his or her capacity, interest, and commitment to the learning project at hand.

The more fundamental matter is that substantial sources of direction are built into the educational process so that the learning that truly matters, which in any given setting may best be served by a more cognitivist or a more constructivist design emerges fully flourishing in the process. For Dewey this “means that the successive acts” of each learning experience “are brought into a continuous order” so that they successively build on each other in leading toward a satisfactory and coherent learning outcome. In this respect, the attention is not only on the aesthetic appeal of a given teaching moment, though this is critical. What is even more important is that each educational “activity…be centered at a given time in such a way as to prepare for what comes next (p. 25). For without such continuity, the energies unleashed in any momentary learning episode is likely to get dissipated rather than serving in a contributory way to a more enduring educational end. Direction is, for Dewey, a “joint activity” (p. 28) in which each participates in a collaborative educational enterprise in both giving and taking direction in a manner that best moves the quest for the ends-in-view through desirable learning forward.

In this respect, “education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process (p. 38) in which the setting out of an intelligent direction is an essential function in arriving at the desired destination.
Dewey’s more sustained discussion of “growth” takes place in Chapter Three. To put it in the most straightforward manner, Dewey defines growth as the “cumulative movement of action toward a later result” (p. 41). This core concept is premised on the emphasis Dewey places on the plasticity of human nature which serves as the basis for human power or potentiality as an underlying force of both creative and destructive change; what Dewey defines more dynamically as reconstruction. The positive point is the potentiality and desirability of education serving as a creative force that unleashes “the ability to develop” (p. 42) in the very midst of progressively moving from a problematic situation toward a more desirable resolution.

This process of growth remains continuous as long as people have problems to solve and solutions, however provisional, to seek out. Stating the core concept more fully, Dewey refines his definition of growth in the following manner:
It is essentially the ability to learn from experience; the power to retain from one experience something which is of avail in coping with the difficulties of a later situation. This means the power to modify actions on the basis of the result of prior experiences, the power to develop dispositions. Without it, the acquisition of [a constructive set of educational] habits is impossible (p. 44).

An adult learner returns to class after a less satisfactory job interview and through a class analysis carefully reviewed what worked well and what did not, what re-adjustments are needed for a more effective result, including a determination of whether the problem lies some needed mastery in the realm of interpersonal competency, in a technical skill area, or whether something else altogether may have been in play. With a plausible diagnostic serving as a guiding framework, the student, then, is in a better position to re-assesses his or her readiness for a given position and work on enhancing whatever skill sets require basic development or perhaps minor calibration.

Thus, “a possibility of continuing progress is opened up by the fact that in learning one act [in this case how to break down the negative and positive features of a given job interview], methods are developed [that can be] good for use in other situations.” In this case, the student has obtained a more nuanced understanding of his or her skill set in light of the range of the types of job for possible consideration as well as an enhanced set of presentation skills designed for a more effective presentation in a job interview. In the process this student “acquires a [better] habit of learning. He learns to learn” (p. 45) and achieves a certain level of growth in the process which can be transferred to other situations.

To be sure, additional steps are needed in drawing on such reassessment and re-tooling in preparing for other interviews and in ultimately landing a desired job, which could include a re-calibration of what that means. This effort also would also fall within the purview of a continuous learning inquiry process based on the subtle artistic and critical sensibilities unleashed in a working through the means-ends continuum in which some movement toward the desired goal would be ideally built into each teaching moment.

To sum up, the very purpose of education, according to Dewey, is to establish a learning environment which secures the full use of intelligence in the process of forming fruitful habits that can instill a mode of continuous inquiry in which greater learning in relationship to the issues of true significance is fostered. For optimal effectiveness, such a mode of learning needs to be institutionalized by a given school or educational agency and internalized among both teachers and students alike. In this respect, education at its best is a form of lifelong learning in which life itself is enhanced through continuous growing. In this respect, “the educational process has no end beyond itself; it is its own end,” a process of “continual reorganizing, reconstructing, transforming” (p. 50).

This, in short, is what Dewey means by growth, a vision of learning that holds much potential significance in adult education settings. It is this that I recommend that you focus on in reading Ch 4, “Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline,” by concentrating on sections one and three, and Ch 5, “Education as Progressive,” skimming sections one and two for core ideas, while concentrating on section three.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cognitivist Learning Design

Exploring the Cognitive Perspective through the Intricate Model of M.D. Merrill’s Instructional Design

M.D. Merrill makes a sharp distinction between what he views as “extreme” and “moderate” constructivism and seeks to build bridges with the latter in establishing his own complex instructional design in fusing key elements of constructive design within a framework that remains grounded in core cognitive principles. What he rejects in particular is the broad-swathe cloth that some constructivists make in indiscriminatingly linking both behaviorism and cognitivism with objectivism in positing a radical polarity between the external world and internal representation in their various personal and collaborative manifestations. Clearly, Merrill operates from the premise that the content of instruction stems largely from the learning challenges of the external environment that students need to process through effective modes of instruction in order to gain mastery of the basic skills and competencies to function effectively in some real-world setting. As one works through his first principles of instruction one can discern the operation of a highly sophisticated informational processing metaphor in his model in which knowledge is extracted from the environment and brought into the long-term memory and retrieval systems of individual learners through a very precise and sequenced pedagogical process. In this respect, his interpretation learning shares close affinities with those of Tom Sticht as described in Chapters Four and Five in Functional Context Education

Merrill’s model is quite robust in its incorporation of constructivist learning theory. It is grounded in a “real-world,” problem-centered focus, which shares certain affinities with constructivism and the pragmatic theory of learning of John Dewey. Merrill refers to a principle as a basic methodological “relationship that is always true under appropriate conditions regardless of program or practice.” Merrill identifies his first principles as basic principles of learning. He notes that that they do not cover all learning modalities, but they are primary and have solid applicability in a broad array of learning/teaching contexts. A practice would be a specific instructional activity such as an example designed to illuminate a broader point within a given principle. A program consists of a set of prescribed practices. Examples include phonemic-based and whole language reading programs. Principles are design rather than learner oriented. They “can be implemented in any delivery system or [by] using any instructional architecture,” such as a classroom or online format. They are universal in scope in applying to learning processes across specific topics and contents. Effective learning depends on the extent to which the primary principles are well integrated into an instructional plan or program in ways relevant to the specific context of any given set of learning objectives.

As presented in “First Principles of Instruction,” the model consists of five sequenced stages of implementation. Whether or not Merrill also believes they can be applied recursively would be telling in helping to assess the extent to which he is willing to incorporate constructivist learning theory into his framework. So would on whether learning in certain settings is more effectively enhanced by focusing on one or two of the principles than attempting to work through them all. One might wonder as well whether, under certain circumstances, Merrill would agree that other principles should have more priority, given that on constructivist precepts, methodology itself is a function of the constructed process of learning and cannot be effectively pre-determined. My reading of Merrill leads me to believe that while he would accept this latter assumption in theory, he would remain suspicious of more “extreme” constructivist claims that pre-determined or pre-designed methods and materials cannot be established beforehand in which everything has to emerge “in process.” He does, however, embrace a more modest set of constructivist precepts in setting forth his own ID2 design. Merill draws out this convergence in, “Constructivism and Instructional Design,” discussed after presenting a chart overview of Merrill’s Five Principles.

Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction

1. Learning is promoted when learners are engaged in real-world problems
whole task rather than only components of a task in which the [whole] task is representative of those the learner will encounter in the world following instruction.
• Merrill emphasis the importance of some worked out example of the type of whole task the students will learn to complete by the end of the course. He refers to this initial step in problem-based learning as the “show task.
• Whole task learning requires four operations (a) accurate identification of the problem; (b) appropriate skills needed to complete the tasks for effective problem solving; (c) effective mastery of the operations required to complete the tasks; (d) effective mastery of the necessary actions to complete the operations.
• For whole tasks requiring multiple problem-resolution simpler problems need to be worked through first. From that point, more complex problems can be introduced.

2. Learning is promoted when knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge
• Drawing out the relevance of previous experience to the problem at hand serves as an essential base-line in gaining new experience or knowledge through which students can enhance their mental maps. Progress is further attained to the extent that students internalize self-learning processes that they can draw on to activate problem-solving motivational strategies and appropriate skill-based competency.
• If class members lack requisite experience, then there is a need to construct a viable alternative that will serve as an apt simulation for processing the relevant experiential knowledge to engage in effective problem solving.
• Part of the activation stage may require more emphasis at the perceptual level in helping students to expand the range of their mental models in which there may or may not be a direct correlation with concrete skill enhancement.

3. Learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner
• Instructor-led demonstration of a problem-solving scenario provides an invaluable of social modeling critical for progressive student mastery at both the perceptual and concrete skill-based levels.
• Learning is promoted to the extent that the demonstration is fully consistent with the specific learning goal at hand. These include appropriate examples, demonstrations, visualizations, and modeling.
• Learning is enhanced through discerning scaffold-based guidance in working in the nexus between what students can do on their own and what they would be able to do with just the right support that is neither too much to damp down stimulation-based concentration, or too little in leaving students hanging without the support they need to move forward in their learning. Multiple, guided demonstrations of slightly different variation are valuable in bringing out critical comparisons and contrasts, which help students process something of the range and complexity of a given problem-solving scenario, such as viewing 3-4 effective approaches for preparing for and completing a successful job interview. Media, such as YouTube can be very effective here, but unless highly relevant will more likely be distracting.

4. Learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner
• Problem-based mastery requires students to apply newly gained knowledge or skills to solve relevant problems.
• This requires effective practice at various levels in working with the problem at hand. Such practice facilitates working with the problem from multiple perspectives which helps process learning into the long-range memory system needed for various storage, retention, retrieval, and rehearsal purposes.
• Such multiple presentation formats support the need for students to solve a sequence of problems, from composing an effective resume, to undertaking a solid job search (including identifying what one would like to do as well as could do in terms of current skills/knowledge base and current job market conditions), sharpening interviewing and follow-up skills, and exploring different career options.
• Effective coaching at just the right time and intensity is an important instructional task in which decreasing support at just the right time and level is also useful in order to best facilitate student internalization.
• Multiple opportunities for practice in the manipulation of different aspects of a problem in diverse contexts is also critical for effective application.

5. Learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learners world
• Integration is facilitated when learners apply new learning to some aspect of their everyday life.
• Integration is enhanced to the extent that learners are given a chance to demonstrate their new learning in various public formats, including class demonstrations.
• Integration is enhanced to the extent that learners creatively and critically reflect on, discuss, and defend, their new knowledge and skill in a manner they can discern as reasonably effective.
• Integration is enhanced when learners can create, invent, and explore new and personal ways to use their new knowledge and skill.

Merrill’s Constructivism and Instructional Design

The historical origins of instructional design theory stem from the work of Robert Gagne, which in his early period in the 1960s reflected strong behavioral assumptions. From that time on Gagne began to shift toward the cognitivist perspective (Historical & Philosophical Foundations of Instructional Design It is this early period that Merrill identifies as ID1, which “extreme” constructivists draw upon in indiscriminately linking both behaviorism and cognitivism with the objectivist perspective. Merrill by-passes the issue as to whether the cognitivist or constructivist perspective has greater validity as well as the related matter as to how diverse individuals actually internalize learning of various types and kinds. Rather, Merrill, along with Sticht, argues that there is much to be gained in exploring the ways in which ID2, which is based firmly in cognitivist learning theory, both converge and subtly diverge with “moderate” constructivism, a nexus where much fruitful practically-oriented instructional design theory development may emerge. This practical orientation plays out in Merrill in two ways. The first is in his formation of First Principles of Instruction, which he refers to as basic and indispensable, but not necessarily applicable in all learning contexts, where in certain circumstances, even a more radical constructivist instructional design may garner the best results. The second is that the concepts Merrill fleshes out in his ID2 tem from and are designed to enfold back into his First Principles. With these points in mind, let’s give consideration as to how Merrill in “Constructivism and Instructional Design,” makes this case.

Assumptions of ID2

Mental Models

ID2 precepts “start from the assumption that learning results in the organizing of memory into structures.” It is such structures which Merrill refers to as mental models. There is an element here of internal representation in terms of content, which reflects a constructivist sensibility. There is also an element of uniformity of structure on the argument that the various thinking processes exhibit a persisting regularity through which information is processed and exhibited that requires effective instructional methodologies for a satisfactory tapping into. Merrill’s comments on mental models veer toward the uniform properties of the thinking process while cautioning against rigidity or taking an overly prescriptive stance. Thus:

• “Organization [of information] during learning [into definable patterns or schemas] aids in later retrieval of information.”
• “Such “elaborations…aid in later retrieval of information,” which also
• “facilitates retrievals” in which a learners draws on a schematic representation

Categories of Knowledge

• There are different learning outcomes and different conditions are required to promote each of these different outcomes, though the Five Principles of Instruction remain primary and are most essential in mastering information that has been socially and culturally determined to be most significant.
• “A given learned performance [interpreting the underlying theme of a short story] results from a given organized and elaborated cognitive structure,” which Merrill refers to as a mental model. At an initial level a student develops the primary mental structures to interpret a given work of fiction. A second-level mental map emerges when the student internalizes underlying interpretative principles of literature and views oneself in the process as an emerging literary critic. While related, these distinctive mental models represent two different schematic self-representations in which the latter internalization would more likely represent a stronger affinity toward constructivism along the cognitivist-constructivist continuum, which would depend in part on principles of literary interpretation drawn upon.
• It follows then that “different learning outcomes will require different mental models” even as the Five Principles of Instruction apply across a broad range of diverse learning scenarios as both basic and primary modalities of universal instructional design.

Knowledge Representation

• Unlike the emphasis on internal representation as exhibited especially in work of the “extreme constructivists,” Merrill argues that knowledge can be represented in a knowledge base external to the learner such as the mathematical system, accepted bodies of historical and literary interpretation, architectural design, basic principles in obtaining and keeping a good job, 12 steps toward addiction recovery, a pre-developed syllabus, etc.
• However these various modalities of external knowledge or representation have emerged, one can analyze the organization of knowledge (or, if one prefers, the external representation of knowledge) embedded within them in order to help learners build some bridges between such external frames of reference and the formation and/or elaboration of their own mental models in order to attain a progressive mastery of such externally established knowledge frames and structures through creative and constructive internalizations of their own.


• A complex mental model enables the learner to engage in some complex human enterprise or integrated activity” such as teaching adults effective job attainment skills within a corrections educational setting. “ID2 should teach the elaborated [external] knowledge needed to facilitate the development of [effective and complex enough] mental models” to succeed in such a life-important learning enterprise so that there would be a direct correspondence to what they learned in the classroom with what they need to master in some real-world setting.

Knowledge Strategy Separation

• Instructional strategy is a strategy of specific knowledge content, otherwise knowledge transfer would be difficult, if not practically impossible to attain.
• Rather, the same set of strategies, say the Five Principles of Instruction and their related corollaries “can be used to teach different topics and even different subject matter.”
• Similarly, there are times when effective learning is most enhanced through both simplifications of complex authentic contexts and by isolating skills from a given context in order to sharpen their development through guided practice.

Strategy Categories

• “Different instructional strategies [or different mixes] are required to promote the acquisition of different kinds of learning outcomes.
• Such strategies, however, are not “domain specific,” applicable to only a type of learning. Rather, they contain a broad uniformity representative of effective instructional design (such as principles of phonemic instruction) which needs to be implemented with accuracy and skill in order for students to achieve maximum learning outcomes.
• It follows, then, that “using the appropriate instructional strategy [in the appropriate manner or range of applicability] will facilitate the student’s acquisition of that knowledge or skill, while using an inappropriate instructional strategy will decrement the student’s acquisition of that skill.”

Strategy Universality

• As stated, such “instructional strategies are somewhat universal; that is, to learn a particular type of knowledge or skill, a particular learner must engage in a set of instructional transactions similar to those required by any other learner.”
• Stated otherwise, effective strategy implementation is both an art and a science, and because the later is under-emphasized in constructivist learning design, argues Merrill, the science of effective instruction needs special attention at this time.

Much of the remainder of Merrill’s article, “Constructivism and Instructional Design” consists of a comparison/contrast between constructivism and ID2, which, other than to highlight a few key points, I will not re-cap in any depth. The article in its totality merits a close reading for those interested in pursuing Merrill’s ideas as well as those interested sifting through finely-nuanced comparisons between cognitivist and constructivist learning theories and corresponding instructional designs.

Summary Statements on Constructivism and Instructional Design

• Merrill rejects both a complete, blank state objectivist learning theory in which internal representations count for nothing, as well the assertion that the “cognitive structure [of individuals] is completely idiosyncratic, unique to each individual.”
• Similarly, mental models may be different in their content with each learner even as their underlying structure has a more uniform quality.
• Further, knowledge across subject matter “can be represented in knowledge frames of three types—entities [things], [learning] activities, and processes” of learning, each of which can be further categorized into properties, components, abstractions, and associations.
• In a given learning context, for example, finding and keeping a good job, it is important that a certain amount of knowledge; perhaps the CASAS employment competencies or the EFF Worker Role Map may be useful, if for nothing less than that of providing students with a critical standard or at least a pivotal baseline to evaluate their own performance on and progress toward mastering a particular set of facts.
• Merrill accepts the importance of “authentic knowledge,” which becomes fine-tuned through the intricate engagement of highly concrete classroom dynamics; in fact his instructional design construct is premised on the importance of instructional relevance. However, he rejects the assumption of some constructivists that a working external knowledge base or learning objectives cannot be pre-specified. That is, he rejects the core assumptions that underlie the “emergent curriculum” and argues that the quality and content such preliminary organization is often central to effective student learning, which then becomes worked through and even modified as a result of the undergoing of the learning process.
• Merrill also rejects the assumption that learning tasks can never be de-contextualized. He argues, rather, that well-incorporated “de-contextual activities and processes are often pivotal in terms of developing some of the fine-tuned micro-skills essential in accomplishing critical tasks and processes that make mastery of holistic learning designs more feasible. Such de-contextualization is an essential factor, moreover, in facilitating transfer knowledge from one context to another. We will study this argument in more depth in Weeks Eight and Nine where we will examine the relationship between metacognition and guided instruction.

Concluding Remarks on Merrill

I have spent a good deal of time on Merrill, in part because his work and much of the trajectory of the cognitivist argument has not been widely discussed in adult education settings. I also do so because I think his research in instructional design provides an abundance of resources the adult educator could appropriate with much value, whether or not accepting the entirety of the cognitivist presuppositions embedded in his work. I think, too, that there is much merit in further explorations of the ID2 -constructivist dialogue regardless as to whether one is more inclined toward the cognitivist or constructivist perspective. I remain uncertain on the extent to which there needs to be a coherent and consistent connection between one’s learning theory and instructional design. I agree with Merrill that there is much about these matters that remains uncertain. I also think a great deal of both our theory construction and practice is embedded both in our conscious and unconscious assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors, and that critical, collaborating probing of these various matters can illuminate a great deal, though far from everything of critical importance. My sense is that theory construction, however implicit or explicit, is embedded in all our work, in which, moreover, there is an innate human drive for and toward a consistent uniformity at some very deep level, however much such a quest conforms or not, to some facet of external reality of which individuals are both enmeshed and because of their creative capacity, partially shape. However valid this may be is beyond my capacity to determine.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Constructivist Learning Theory

Overview of Constructivist Learning Theory & Implications for Instructional Design

In the introduction to a book that merits much reflection, Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction (Ed.) Thomas M. Duffy & David H. Jonassen, the authors argue that both “objectivism” and constructivism accept the fact that there is a real world that in some way can be and is experienced.” However, from the constructivist perspective,

Meaning is imposed on the world by us, rather than existing in the world independently of us. [Consequently,] there are many ways to structure the world, and there are many meanings and perspectives for any event or concept. Thus there is not a correct meaning that we are striving for (p. 3)

As further developed in Bednar et al, in “Theory into Practice: How Do We Link,” argues similarly that since all we can come to know is how various human actors construct the world through “internal representation,” “conceptual growth,” in turn, “comes from the sharing of multiple perspectives and the simultaneous changing of our internal representations in response to those perspectives as well as through cumulative experiences.” Clearly, from this point of view, growth in learning is both possible and desirable through increasingly rich internal representations that provide enhanced efficacy in interacting with the culture and social environment from which and to whom the “individual” has been shaped.

The contrast is with the objectivist tradition, in which, in language of Bednar et al, “Objectivity is a goal we must constantly strive for.” As argued by Duffy & Jonassen,

"Objectivism holds that the world is completely and correctly structured in terms of entities, properties, and relations. [Personal] experience plays an insignificant role in the structuring of the world; meaning is something that exists in the world quite aside from experience. Hence, the goal of understanding [and therefore, education] is to come to know the entities, attributes, and relations that exist. The objectivist view acknowledges that people have different understandings based on different experiences….However, the impact of prior experience and human interpretation is seen as leading to partial understandings and biased understandings. The goal is to strive for the complete and correct understanding" [in which truth, however beyond the capacity for flawed and finite minds to fully attain, is a regulative ideal that should inform research, theory construction, and evidence based practice] (pp. 2-3)

As articulated by Duffy & Jonassen as well as by Bednar et al, the contrast couldn’t be sharper. As we saw in the previous lecture, there is a sort of great divide in learning theory in which constructivists link education to the pursuit of enhanced and meaning through an exploration of the rich chords of context including the dialectic between personal and collective perception in which self and social context are subtly interwoven rather than sharply separated as two distinctive entities. We saw as well that cognitivist learning theorists, like behaviorists posit an external world which has its own power and legitimacy that operates largely outside the parameters of individual perceptions. This is the case, cognitivists argue, even as they give greater credence to enhancing self-awareness through various information processing strategies that depend very much on personal perception. Moreover, as reflected Merrill’s essay, “Constructivism and Instructional Design,” some cognitivists, Sticht included, seek to build bridges with constructivist learning theory even as their predominant inclinations, in my view remain ultimately cognitivist in scope, an assessment of which I am not sure Merrill or Sticht would accept.

A few notations on Bednar et al.’s “Theory into Practice: How Do We Link?” (,
will help to sharpen the discussion of the critical assumptions that underscore constructivist learning theory, including its contrast with what the authors refer to as the Objectivist perspective. The critical need, according to the authors, is to view the prevailing eclectic approach in instructional design with considerable skepticism in which “concepts and strategies [of learning] are abstracted out of their theoretical framework” simply because they seem useful in a given context. The authors maintain that cognitivist learning theorists, who share an affinity for “objectivism” with behaviorists, are, in fact, drawing implicitly on a broad range of behaviorist and cognitivist resources which cumulatively reinforce the objectivist paradigm. On this they point out the emphasis on “behavioral learning theory, cybernetics, and information-processing theory.

Whether or not this represents an adequate view of cognitivism is a point of contention to be explored throughout this lecture and throughout our two week focus on learning theories. For example, the distinctions get a bit fuzzier when considering “systems thinking,” which also falls within the purview of the cognitivist mix. Yet, in its emphasis on working toward holistic solutions could veer toward a more constructivist sensibility. The following links provide a brief overview of systems thinking:

Management theorist Peter Senge’s widely read book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization is a good example of a text that is deeply grounded in a systems-thinking design that appeals to cognitivist and constructivist-oriented management consultants and practitioners. Despite this complexity, I would agree with the intent of Bednar et al’s argument that underlying presuppositions (whether cognitivist or constructivist) play a powerful role in shaping how any resource will be utilized, and therefore, the ultimate orientation of a particular educational direction. In pushing their argument, Bednar et. al contend that:

Instructional design and development must be based upon some theory of learning and/or cognition; effective design is possible only if the developer has developed reflexive awareness of the theoretical basis underlying the design (italics in original).

Whether or not this is the case, a good number of those working from what might be dubbed “the constructivist revolution” in learning theory, argue this is the case. For these advocates this represents a profound paradigm shift of the first order magnitude. Whether or not insight from various learning theories can be fused in giving shape to a coherent instructional design and corresponding classroom practice, merits close investigation in its own right; a topic I will revisit when I get to M.D. Merrill’s research. For the immediate purposes here of fleshing out the basic assumptions of constructivist learning theory, the following comparative chart extracted from “Theory into Practice,” may be of more value.

Objectivist/Constructivist Contrasts:
Note: Bednar et. al represent the objectivist perspective through cogntivist rather than behaviorist learning theory in which the two are somewhat conflated.

Objectivist Learning Theory

Analysis of Content

• A tendency to simplify, and regularize, or systematize the components to be learned.
• Content components identified and classified based on nature of the content and goals of the learners.
• Component analysis presupposes and pre-specifies perquisite learning.

Analysis of Learners

• The focus of instruction is meeting the needs of the average or general learner
• The learner has a learning deficiency of some type which requires pinpointed remediation
• Pre-test assessment provides an important diagnosis of student learning needs
• The purpose of instruction is to help students gain efficient mastery of the information presented through various mind storage and retrieval processes.

Specification of Objectives

• The focus of instruction is the specification of the intended outcome, such as accurately filling out a job application
• Learning objectives are broken down into specific tasks and then organized into broader synthetic units in which each component builds into and builds up into a unitary block of knowledge.
• Instruction is to be based on performance objectives which are internal to each field of study or body of content.

Constructivist Learning Theory

Analysis of Content

• The content cannot be pre-specified since the learner must construct a frame of reference for even determining what content is relevant.
• A provisional topic range may be specified Still, getting to the relevant contexts that give shape to what emerges as the content to be explored requires a reflective discovery process in its own right.
• Most important is fresh data, fresh insights, fresh content that only emerges in and through the learning process itself.
• Units of information cannot be isolated from the contexts in which they are embedded, and therefore, the boundaries of what may are relevant are more permeable than traditionally viewed.
• There may be a need to simplify content for a novice learner, which needs to remain grounded in authentic contexts.

Analysis of Learners

• The focus of instruction is to enhance student reflexivity rather than that of remembering.
• Accordingly, the focus is on knowledge construction, the stimulation of the imagination, probing inquiry, and the exploration of alternative perspectives.

Specification of Objectives

• The focus of instruction is to enhance student reflexivity rather than that of remembering.
• Accordingly, the focus is on knowledge construction, the stimulation of the imagination, probing inquiry, and the exploration of alternative perspectives.

Concluding Thoughts

The remainder of the article further fleshes out some of the key assumptions that underlie constructivist learning theory such as the following:

• Students are not asked simply to solve pre-fabricated and artificial problems and projects. Rather, the learning challenge is to work with them to discover problems and create projects designed to either resolve them or probe more deeply into them that capture a larger context in which any given set of problems may be deemed as relevant. Learning objectives emerge accordingly as part of the discovery process.
• It is critical, therefore, to maintain the complexity of any authentic learning environment and situate learning within that complexity as students engage their roles within its highly contextual framework.
• High level modeling, extensive opportunities for role play and practice, and stimulating collaborative learning environments are key features of a constructivist learning/teaching design.
• These features, in turn draw out the necessity of multiple perspectives in which a significant learning challenge is to grasp and evaluate the different points of view. The objective in such a learning environment is obviously not that of extrapolating the one best answer, but for an enhancement of internal representations through deep reflection and empathetic, though critical dialogue and engagement.
• Evaluation, in turn, is less mastery of basic facts or isolated information than an assessment of the quality of thinking that the learner has undergone through inquiry-based education. Critical features include problem solving capacity, reasoned thinking, including deep contextual probing, and capacity to defend a point of view within some type of real-world-based perspective. Portfolio assessment has served as an important tool in providing an organized structure for a constructivist evaluation even as it by necessity requires some simplification of the context in order to manage.

Bednar et al. leave us with a few salient questions to ponder, namely:

1. Is critical thinking the goal of all learning?
2. Do the contexts in which the learning is to be applied relate to the nature of the learning experience? Stated somewhat differently, is there a direct correlation between learning and context mastery of a given topic?
3. Are there contexts where it is appropriate to apply traditional instructional developmental models and others where it is not?
4. Is it useful to distinguish learning capacities of novice from more experienced learners?

The authors leave these questions open. Nonetheless, one might draw a plausible inference that the reality may not be as clear cut from a pure assessment of their theoretical interpretation of constructivist learning theory. If that is, in fact the case then where does that leave their core argument that all aspects of developing a learning environment need to be based on a coherent (and seemingly singular) philosophical premise? I’ll let their minimalist prescription stand as the final word: “Minimally, we must be aware of the epistemological underpinnings of our instructional design and we must be aware of the consequences of that epistemology on our goals for instruction, our design on instruction, and on the very process of design.” This, indeed, may be a good starting point for an ongoing exploration of the cogency and relevant applications of an array of learning theories as they apply or might apply to adult education.